Flowers for Family

My grandmother passed away in January. It wasn't unexpected, she was 93 and had been prepared for her final journey for some time, but it was nonetheless a sad occasion for me. I wasn't particularly close with her growing up, she lived in Florida most of the year and I only saw her once or twice a summer, but after my step-grandfather died in 2011 (my biological grandfather died of cancer years before I was born) she moved back up to Maine to an assisted living residence.

I was working at Shelburne Museum by then, so it was as an adult that I had the chance to see her more often and get to know her better. Through our visits I discovered that we had a lot in common in both personality and interests, particularly a love of history and art (she had a special fondness for John Singleton Copley), and I really looked forward to seeing and talking with her. After I moved to New Mexico, I made a point of writing her letters and sending her exhibit brochures so that she would know what I was up to in Roswell. I'm sad that she's gone, but very grateful that I had to chance to get to know her at all, as she was really a remarkable woman in so many ways.

As I've mentioned before, making art is my way of processing grief, and Grammie's passing has been no exception. I had been sketching a bouquet of flowers with the intent of making a drypoint, so I decided to use this work as my springboard, as Grammie had always loved flowers. Another motive, however, was my family. I wasn't able to fly back to Grammie's funeral, but I knew that my mother and aunts were all experiencing some emotional turmoil, so I decided to make a print for each of them, a permanent sympathy bouquet, so to speak.

I started by printing the drypoint itself. I made six different impressions, all on my best BFK Rives paper. Sometimes I can get impatient when I'm printing, but I made a point of working slowly on these, turning the exercise into a moving meditation.
This was my Superbowl Sunday.

For the flowers I swabbed the plate with a Q-tip to make the highlights.
For the first print, I evoked the original color scheme of the bouquet itself.

I was going to hand-color all the prints with the same palette, but at my boyfriend's suggestion, I decided to change the color scheme of each work in order to make them unique. After contemplating a few combinations, I remembered a recent conversation with my mother about the importance of having family around to process grief, in this instance the presence of her two surviving sisters. I decided that these prints needed to be not only the memory of my grandmother, then, but the bond between the family left behind. Thinking about mo mother's comment on family, I decided to go with a primary color scheme: yellow, red, and blue. As a triad, these colors not only form the basis of all other hues on the color wheel, but also evoke a sense of balance and harmony. There's a reason why Wonder Bread uses primary circles on its packaging.

I started with the yellow print, incorporating bright red into the petals as well. Initially I was going to give this to my aunt Chris, but the bright tones reminded me of my mother's deep love for southwestern colors, so I decided to give it to her.
For the second print, I went with a deep crimson. This print went to my aunt Pat, whose red eighteenth-century house has long been the center of family gatherings and celebrations.
Finally, I painted blue flowers for the last print. This work went to my aunt Chris, who has always sought out serenity in her life.
Each print references the original bouquet while asserting its own personality, just as my mother and aunts share qualities with my grandmother but are also their own distinct individuals. For me, these prints aren't primarily about grief, but my mother and aunts, and the magical way in which family bonds can transcend death itself to unite multiple generations and personalities.

If these prints seem familiar to you, they should be. I'm deliberately channeling the work of Bertha E. Jaques, whose floral work I have admired for some time now. I've wanted to pay homage to her prints for a while, but given my grandmother's deep love of history, it seemed especially appropriate to channel the work of an early twentieth-century printmaker, particularly one as independent and generous as Jaques.
Bertha E. Jaques, Gentians, 1929. The blue color scheme I used was partly inspired by this print.
For me, this is my art at its best. Not because the ideas are especially profound, I'm a traditionalist and I know it, but because of the comfort it can bring to people in need. And in times like these, that comfort and beauty is always important.

Rest in peace, Grammie.


  1. Sarah, flowers at funerals are appreciated. I am a little stunned. Upon my trip to Louisiana in December, my eldest aunt passed away after my return to Las Cruces. Drawings of flowers might have been very nice, or Photographs. Stunned. -DAC


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